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Chabot Space & Science Center Uses RFID to Teach Environmental Science

The California museum's new Bill Nye's Climate Lab exhibition incorporates EPC RFID technology, enriching the way in which visitors interact with the exhibits.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Dec 03, 2010Bill Nye, a scientist and engineer based in the Los Angeles area, is widely known as Bill Nye the Science Guy, thanks to the television series by that name that aired from 1993 until 1998. Nye has hosted a number of other TV shows about science, and penned several books. But now he has an additional moniker: Bill Nye the Climate Guy. That's because his most recent venture is as the virtual host of a new RFID-enabled exhibition about climate change at the Chabot Space & Science Center, located in Oakland, Calif.

Geared toward children, the Bill Nye's Climate Lab strives to educate visitors about the most pressing environmental problems, and employs radio frequency identification to help it achieve that goal. The lab's 12 RFID-enabled exhibits, which convey to visitors the basic science of climate change, identify two of the largest sources of greenhouse-gas emissions (transportation and buildings), as well as promising technologies being implemented to combat climate change. Some exhibits require visitors to move handles or pumps in order to see how systems work, whereas others ask them to respond to polls or quizzes, and still others are only informative.

At the exhibition's Seeds of Change station, visitors place their badges on an RFID reader to see how many solutions they've collected. (Photo courtesy of Chabot Space & Science Center)

Upon entering the Climate Lab, each visitor is handed a Climate Scout ID card composed of cardboard (roughly the size of a business card) and containing an embedded Alien Technology ALN-9662 "Short" EPC Gen 2 inlay, made with Alien's Higgs-3 chip. Printed on the card's back side is a 16-character ID number that is also encoded to the tag. The card, adorned with the image of a briefcase, is attached to a lanyard, to be worn around the visitor's neck.

The goal is to virtually fill the card's briefcase with solutions, by visiting and interacting with all of the individual exhibits. An RFID reader embedded in each exhibit collects the unique ID from an approaching visitor's card, and forwards that number to middleware that filters out duplicate tag reads, based on a set of process logic rules, and also controls the interrogators. The cleaned data is then forwarded to software developed specifically for the exhibit by Longwave Consulting Partners, based in Mount Pleasant, S.C.

In the Longwave software, the visitor's profile is formed automatically as soon as the tag is read at any of the Climate Lab's exhibits. In some cases, an exhibit will require the individual to physically interact with it before it will award the solution associated with that particular exhibit, while others require only that the tag be read for a predetermined numbers of seconds. In either scenario, he or she earns the solution associated with that exhibit. Most solutions provide the visitor with 1,000 points, though there are ways to acquire extra points at some exhibits. Once the visitor earns a solution, it is added to that person's profile in the Longwave software.

"We didn't want the kids to game it, so there is the assumption that they spend some time doing something and, therefore, deserve the solution," says Mark Samber, a principal at Longwave. So if two visitors are standing in front of an exhibit that requires interaction, the reader will pick up both of their tags and award points to both of them for having found the solution, even though only one person operated the handle. One example of such an exhibit is a model of a power generator that creates electricity from the motion of ocean waves. The exhibit depends on a visitor pulling a handle repeatedly in order to generate a wave that, in turn, rotates a turbine that eventually powers a small light. Other exhibits, however, associate any interaction directly to a single visitor. For example, there are computer kiosks at which visitors are asked to take a poll or a quiz. Because a kiosk's RFID interrogator might read more than one tag within its vicinity, the user must click on his or her Climate Scout ID number, which is displayed on the kiosk's computer screen (along with any other tag IDs it detects at that moment) before that individual can begin the quiz or poll.


Lynne Lehmer 2010-12-12 08:07:11 AM
Contact Bill Nye Hi. How can I contact Bill Nye. I want to bring more science to Elkhart County, IN. I don't know if I can install my article, but here I will try. http://www.examiner.com/public-transit-travel-in-south-bend/if-i-were-the-public-transit-god-for-northern-indiana It didn't go as a link, but read it if you want. Elkhart county is in very northern Indiana. It has been hit hard by the economy problem. I have an idea and put it forth in this article. I don't think people around here think like me, so I am looking out of this area for ideas.
Rich Handley 2010-12-13 07:28:49 AM
Contacting Bill Nye The quickest way to contact Bill Nye would be through his site, http://www.billnye.com. There's a "Contact Bill" button on the top right of the page.

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